Selena hated being left behind.
Watching as the little dots moved further away from her and closer to the town dredged up with an unpleasant mixture of resentment and guilt. Of course, Aaron was right that it made sense to stay behind. She’d designed this place to be central intelligence, and it was pointless to have all this tech here if she wasn’t here to use it.
But it just felt wrong.
“They’ve barricaded the road,” Carter said over the com. “Selena. Selena!”
“Oh, um, sorry,” she said. Stupid. Stupid. Getting distracted is going to get someone killed. She reoriented herself, tuning back into the stream of data flowing through her system. “The police are stretched pretty thin,” she said. “As long as you avoid the road, you should be fine. Oh, and use codenames, just in case.”
“Good idea,” said Molly.
“We can park back behind the auto shop there,” Aaron said. “Heatseeker and Tempest can go the other direction.”
“I don’t like splitting up,” Carter said as they made their way toward town.
“This many people together is conspicuous,” Aaron said. “If we have to use our powers, it will be easier to hide without a big group roaming around.”
“He’s right,” Molly said. “Don’t worry. We’ve all got coms, and none of us will be alone.”
Except me, thought Selena, tapping her finger on the desk. Data, she reminded herself. Focus on the data. “We need to concentrate on the areas with the worst tremors,” she said, pinpointing the origination of each quake. “The courthouse, uh, the park, the east shopping strip, the residential area past Broad Street. Ew, and the old cemetery past the bank. Ick.” Her attention strayed to the bright circle over Broadgate Square. She’d rattled it off along with the other markers, but the epicenter of that impact was only a block from her house. Of course, her parents should be working—it was rare for either of them to be home on Saturday morning—but any one of her brothers could be home. She’d run a trace on their phones, but the cell towers were in such overload right now, she was having trouble getting anything.
But she had to focus. No distractions.
The cluster of dots she’d tacked onto her friends separated into two groups. “Codex,” Aaron said, “I’ve been thinking about the map. The one we were looking at before the quake?”
“Yeah.” She knew what he was going to say already. It was the same thing she’d been trying not to think about.
“Did it match up?”
Selena looked up at the display above her desk and overlaid the two maps against one another. One showed the quakes, and the other showed the Resson waves she’d picked up just prior to the first tremor. She knew what she’d see before she did it, but as the images laid over each other, concentric circles lining neatly over one another, she felt a sick thrill of dread.
She swallowed. “It matches.”
“What matches?” Carter asked. “What are you talking about?”
Neither of them spoke for a moment. Finally, Selena volunteered. “Right before the tremors started, I picked up a spike in Resson activity. In the exact spot the first quake originated.”
“I thought Resson waves weren’t supposed to be dangerous,” Lucia said. “Dr. Haley said so.”
“Yeah, but we still don’t know much about them,” Aaron said. “It could be a symptom of something else. Or it could be a massive coincidence.”
“Pretty massive,” Selena muttered, but not loudly to transmit.
“We can worry about that later,” Molly cut in. “Right now, we need to focus on the aftereffects. On helping where we can”
“One problem at a time,” Carter agreed.
One problem at a time. Selena sighed and leaned back, taking in a wider view of her workstation. Focus on the data. She rolled her shoulders and stretched her arms over her head. No distractions. She laid her hands over the keyboard, cleared her mind, and let the data flow over her.
* * * * *
Brennan could smell smoke as soon as he stepped out of the car, even though he couldn’t sense much from where they were. There were four or five big heat sources in town and a scattering of small ones, but they were far enough from the impacted area that he couldn’t sense details.
Police had barricaded the road a good half mile from where they needed to be, so they’d had to circumvent the main roads and find an isolated place to park and sneak past the perimeter through a ditch behind the main shopping center’s back lot.
“I’ve got to get to the cafe first,” Molly said, drawing her hood over her head. “Dad and Clarissa were both there when the earthquake hit.”
“They aren’t answering?” Brennan asked.
She shook her head, her mouth a terse line in a face full of worry. He handed her a scarf out of his hoard of clothes—a navy blue almost dark enough to pass for black. She looped it over her shoulders loosely and sped up. “Did you get Ivy?” She’d transitioned into what he thought of as “Azure Mode.” None of her insecurities or self-consciousness showed, and she moved with single-minded purpose, her stride long enough that she almost outmatched him. She had a problem to solve, and everything else was pushed to the background.
“Ivy’s at home,” he said, tapping his hand against his pocket to feel the shape of his phone like that would somehow keep her safe. He’d managed a few quick messages before the cell signal had gone to hell. Enough to say he was out of danger, and to stay at home. He hadn’t gotten his parents either, but they shouldn’t have been in town at all.
“Good,” Molly said.
She and peered up the hill. They couldn’t see much from down here except a chain link fence at the top of the hill. “I think we’re far enough past the barricade now. We should get going.” She wound the scarf tighter, pulling it up over her mouth so that all he could see of her face was her eyes and the bridge of her nose. She started to run, but he grabbed her sleeve.
“Are you going to be okay?” he asked. “If the shaking starts again?”
Molly hesitated. “I don’t know,” she said. “There’s not as much groundwater here, so maybe it won’t be as bad. I can’t stay behind,” she added.
“I know.” Brennan looked up the hill. “You still tracking us, Selena?”
“Codenames,” she said over the com.
Rolling his eyes, Brennan said, “Are you tracking us, Codex?”
“I’ve got you,” she said.
Molly glanced back at him once, sprinted up the hill and vaulted over the fence. Brennan took a deep breath, ignoring the churning in his stomach, and ran after her.
As soon as he hopped down from the fence, he could see signs of the earthquake. Trash cans had toppled over, littering the ground with scraps of paper and refuse. Car windows had busted. A huge crack had sprouted through the pavement, too large and uneven to be natural wear.
The stench of spilled garbage and ash overwhelmed him. He followed Molly, mapping heat sources in his head. Most of the blips and streaks of heat were likely to be furnaces, radiators, or other controlled heat sources. The larger ones, however…
“Over there,” he said, pointing toward a column of smoke over the buildings.
Molly squinted at it. “You sure it’s not someone cooking?” she asked. “That barbecue place is over that way.”
“That’s probably what’s on fire,” Brennan said. “Codex, can you get a read on it? Is the fire department anywhere close to us?”
“They’re still over by the courthouse,” Selena said. “They’ve only got the one truck. Fire alarms are going off in three buildings on that street, so I’d hurry.”
Molly glanced the way she’d been heading. Brennan understood her hesitation. It was in the opposite direction of the cafe. But…
“We’ve got to,” he said. “A fire like that will spread fast.”
She nodded like she’d barely heard him, still gazing toward the cafe like she could somehow see inside from this distance.
He gripped her shoulder with one hand. “Tempest,” he said.
She jerked toward him. For a brief moment, Azure was gone, and it was just Molly with him now—a frightened teenager who just wanted to make sure her father was okay. But she blinked, and somehow she’d pushed the fear back. She pulled the scarf tighter, raising it to cover her nose and mouth, so all he could see was her eyes, and a few stray strands of hair. “Let’s go,” she said.
It didn’t take them long to get to the fire.
The streets were in chaos. It wasn’t crowded, exactly, but several cars had wrecked, and people were running through the street, shouting for people they’d lost or come to look for. Others were injured, and although he didn’t see anyone, it was terrifying—especially backlit by the occasional small fire, and accompanied by the sound of crying, screaming, and distant sirens. Among them were people he knew, and he tried not to look too closely at the people they passed. Nobody paid much attention to Brennan and Molly, and they ran across the street toward the source of the fire.
It wasn’t the barbecue place.
It was the church next to it, although it was in danger of spreading to both the restaurant and the small park on the other side. A sizable throng of people had gathered in the parking lot. Someone had started a prayer circle, although most of them were watching the flames climb the walls, helpless to fight them.
Brennan swallowed. “Carter, Aaron, I’ve got some bad news,” he said. “I think you’re going to miss church this week.”
“Codenames,” Selena said.
“Just see if you can help us,” he said. “Trigger the fire sprinklers or something. Tempest, can you sense the water in the main?”
“Yeah,” she said. “The problem is getting it to the fire with all these people watching.”
“Wait, what about church?” Carter said.
“It may be, you know, a little… on fire.”
“Well, put it out!”
“I’m working on it,” he said.
“Back of the building,” Aaron said. “There’s a spot behind the hedges where you can stay hidden from pretty much any angle.”
“Thanks,” he said. “Come on.” They ran around the back of the church, ducking behind the hedges. Under the jacket and scarves, he was sweating. “I’m going to start pulling heat out,” he said, pushing his sleeve back from the heat gauntlet. It was cold now—he’d spent the ride over emptying it of as much heat as he could. He pressed his free hand against the ceramic exterior, holding it in place, and started feeding it heat from the fire. It soaked up energy, but he knew it wouldn’t be enough, not without help. The fire was too well fed. “M, can you get to the water in the pipes?”
She shook her head. “Not unless they burst,” she said. “I can’t move it when it’s blocked by a solid surface.”
“Yes, you can,” Brennan said. Memories of the dam besieged him, and the phantom ache in his side flared. He swallowed. “You’ve done it before. Remember?”
“Not on purpose,” she said, staring at the building. “Not when I’m calm.”
“I don’t think you’re really calm now,” Brennan said.
“But I’m in control,” Molly said.
“So lose control,” he said. The forced steadiness in his voice had started to falter. “I need you. I can’t do this without help.”
Molly squeezed her eyes shut. Brennan concentrated on his side, pulling heat into the gauntlet, into the ground, the air, his body—every safe place he could send it. Beside him, Molly knelt on the ground, gripping the grass between her fingers and digging her nails into the soil. Her whole self tensed—her eyes clenched shut, her breathing short and hitched. He knew it wasn’t her ability that held her back. It was fear. The fear of not being able to let go of the power once she grasped it.
“Don’t worry,” he said, resting a hand on her shoulder. “I’m here to pull you back.”
She took a deep, shuddering breath, grit her teeth, and jerked her hands against the soil. A rumbling spread underneath them—like the start of another tremor. Then a jolt like something snapping. A sudden rush of cold flooded the building.
Water, he realized. She’d built up enough pressure against the pipes that they had ruptured, spraying water through the flames. Molly fell beside him, panting. “Best I can do,” she said. “I can’t—I have to let go—”
“I’ve got it,” Brennan said. He renewed his efforts, pulling more heat from the fire as it sputtered under the sudden rush of water. The flames started to retreat.
“Truck’s on it’s way,” Selena said. “ETA five minutes. Can you hold it that long?”
“Yeah,” Brennan said, and for the first time in months, he felt calm. “I’ve got it.”
* * * *
“This is a nightmare,” Lucia said, wrapping her arms around herself.
Aaron agreed, even though he was too out of breath to say so. Carter and Lucia had set a rapid pace through town, and he was having a hard time keeping up. He toyed with the idea of bending time for a minute to catch up, but it would probably just leave him more breathless than he already was. Lucia was breathing just as heavily, but not from exertion.
“Are you okay?” Carter said, resting a hand against her shoulder.
Lucia nodded, but the pain in her expression was palpable. Aaron couldn’t imagine what this was like for her. It was bad enough without her power—the distant screams and sirens, the smoke so thick in the air it stung his eyes—but she would be feeling the fear and disorientation of everyone around them. He took her other hand, offering contact to bolster her.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Let’s just keep walking.” But she didn’t let go of his hand, and Carter kept his contact on her other side. After a minute, she’d built up enough composure to mask the pain. “So, Oh Mighty Giver of Knowledge, where should we head?”
“Less sarcasm and more respect, please,” Selena said. After a brief pause, she said, “Most of the city center is covered. There’s a car collision blocking the way to Broadgate, no casualties. Cemetery should be pretty dead—I mean, empty—so if you can get past Broad Street—”
“Understood,” Carter said. “We’ll head that way.”
Aaron couldn’t mistake the relief in her voice. Most of the wealthier homes were in that area, including Selena’s. Normally, they wouldn’t have any problem getting first responders, but with Broad Street blocked, they could be waiting a while.
It was slow progress. Even though there wasn’t much physical damage to this part of town, there was enough chaos to make up for it. The streets were blocked by cars skewed over the road, and others parked haphazardly and abandoned. The hike through town passed in a daze. Aaron lost all sense of time as events melded together into a long stream of small incidents.
Lucia led the way, in a zigzagged, unfocused pattern that followed whatever threads of intuition her power afforded.
Here and there she stopped, resting a hand on someone’s shoulder and asking if they were all right or offering random words of reassurance. Aaron knew it didn’t matter much what she said; her power did most of the work. Carter helped where he could, although he grew more and more frustrated that he was limited by the presence of so many witnesses.
“I could move those cars out of the way,” he said, frowning at the collision that had blocked Broad Street. “One push and the street would be clear.”
“Can’t risk it,” Aaron said, a little irritably. As frustrated as Carter might be, it was nothing to how useless Aaron felt. If he hadn’t promised to stay together, he might have done more good, but for some reason they thought they couldn’t trust him on his own. “Even if it was worth exposing our powers to the town, there’s a good chance these quakes weren’t natural. It could be someone trying to lure us out.”
“I know,” Carter said, but he kept glowering at the wreck as they passed it.
“Pity the school’s still intact,” Lucia said, eying the familiar grey building across the road. “I could do with some disruption to finals.”
“Yeah, I think finals are going to be cancelled regardless,” Carter said.
“Not if Melroy has any say in it.” She let out a long sigh, and Aaron suddenly noticed how pale she had become.
“Sit down and rest a minute if you need to take a break,” he said. “You won’t do anyone any good if you pass out.”
“Yeah, maybe.” It was a testament to how tired she truly was that she let Carter guide her toward a bench and help her down.
“You got any more of that water?” she asked, pushing her hair back from her face. As Carter hurried to unfasten the water bottle from his belt, Aaron closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Maybe he should have gone with Molly and Brennan, he thought. He might have been of more use putting out fires.
When he opened them again, he was met with a sudden rush of deja vu. He wasn’t sure exactly what exactly triggered it, but a cold chill ran down his back, and he had the sudden knowledge that someone was watching him. He whirled around, searching the street, knowing what he would see. A figure caught his eye, lurking in the shadow across the street. Unlike the other people in the crowd, she seemed oddly calm. Like she was just observing. Most of her face was obscured by a hood and a thin scarf over her mouth, but he caught her eye. She met his gaze, like she was daring him to follow, and then took off down the street.
“What’s wrong?” Lucia asked, turning to him. “What are you looking at? What did you see?” The sudden alarm in her face let him know she suspected what he was thinking. He had to act fast.
“Sorry,” he said, twisting with his power. Time bent around him, and Lucia seemed to slow as she reached toward him, like her hand was moving through a thick syrup. “Sorry,” he muttered again, even though she couldn’t hear him. He shifted his gaze back to where he’d seen the girl, took a deep breath, and started running.
So this chapter ended up a little longer than usual, but I think it was worth it. Look for the next one in a couple of weeks! In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and typo corrections below. If you’re enjoying the story, please do me a favor and give me a recommendation on topwebficion.com or a review on webfictionguide.com.